The lake-studded glacial valley known as the Gap of Dunloe is wedged between County Kerry’s Purple Mountain and MacGillycuddy's Reeks mountain range. The rugged natural scenery along the 7-mile (11-kilometer) paved mountain pass made it a magnet for sublime-seeking, 19th-century, Romantic writers such as William Thackeray and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who waxed lyrical about its beauty. Despite its popularity, the landscape remains as unspoiled as ever.
The pass can be traversed on foot, by bike, or by traditional jaunting cart (pony trap), and can be seen as part of guided and self-guided half- and full-day Gap of Dunloe tours from Killarney. The Gap of Dunloe is bookended by two pubs: at the south end is Lord Brandon’s Cottage, while Kate Kearney’s Cottage—supposedly named after a previous resident who poured out poitín (a traditional moonshine popular in Ireland) to parched travelers—is at the north end. Due to the narrowness of the road and the presence of walkers, sheep, and horses, driving is not advised. Private tours from other destinations along the Ring of Kerry, including Kenmare, Cahersiveen, and Sneem, can incorporate the Gap of Dunloe as well as Ross Castle in Killarney National Park.
Things to Know Before You Go
A one-way walk along the length of the pass, from Kate Kearney’s Cottage to Lord Brandon’s Cottage, typically takes about 2.5 hours.
Wear comfortable footwear and bring rain gear in case of showers.
Choose to end your tour on a high note by adding an optional boat ride across the Lakes of Killarney.
How to Get There
To get to the Gap of Dunloe, follow the Ring of Kerry (N72) west from Killarney for about 4 miles (7 kilometers) before turning left onto the Gap Road. Free parking is available at Kate Kearney's. Organized tours allow visitors to walk, cycle, or travel by horse and cart along the whole length of the pass without having to double back to their car.
When to Get There
The gap sees most footfall in July and August, when the parking lot at Kate Kearney’s often fills up by late morning. If you want a quieter experience, go in early morning or outside peak tourist season, either in spring or autumn.
Tips for Crossing the Pass
Crossing the pass on foot requires a moderate level of physical fitness. If you don’t feel up to the full hike, simply turn back at the head of the gap. It’s also possible to take a jaunting car from Kate Kearney’s to Lord Brandon’s and walk back from there, or join an organized tour that includes pickup, either by bus or by boat, at the end of the route.